Cruise Ship Passengers Are Not Covered by the Warranty of Seaworthiness

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In maritime law, the warranty of seaworthiness imposes on a shipowner an absolute duty to furnish a seaworthy ship. The duty cannot be delegated. Seaworthiness does not mean that a ship must be an accident-free ship but rather a vessel reasonably fit for its intended use. The definition of seaworthiness has been the subject of much litigation. It has been ruled that it refers not just to the physical condition of the vessel, but that unseaworthiness can also be found if the ship has insufficient or incompetent crew or a crew that is severely overworked. This warranty of seaworthiness, however, only applies to the seaman working on the ship, and does not apply to a cruise ship’s passengers. This issue was recently addressed with respect to a claim arising from a crippling fire that occurred on the Carnival Triumph.

In Terry v. Carnival Corp., 3 F. Supp. 3d 1363, 1367-68 (S.D. Fla. 2014), passengers brought suit against Carnival in connection with their claims of injury while aboard the Carnival Triumph, during a cruise that departed on February 7, 2013, from Galveston, Texas, and which was scheduled to return on February 11, 2013. As a result of a fire, however, the Triumph's voyage was cut short when the ship became disabled en route back to Galveston from Cozumel. In ruling on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, the court found that plaintiffs’ claims for unseaworthiness failed as a matter of law because “[t]he general rule of admiralty law is that a ship's passengers are not covered by the warranty of seaworthiness, a term that imposes absolute liability on a sea vessel for the carriage of cargo and seamen's injuries.” Id. At 1335-36 (citing to Kornberg v. Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc., 741 F.2d 1332, 1335 (11th Cir. 1984)). However, the passengers were able to maintain an action based on maritime negligence. This issue appears to be the subject of a current appeal before the 11th Circuit—Means v. CCL, Case No. 15-13280, which we will be monitoring.

It is important to note that while the Kornberg court did hold that a ship’s passengers are not covered by the warranty of seaworthiness, it also held that Carnival had “a duty to provide adequate accommodations to its passengers, . . . so any waiver of unseaworthiness would be irrelevant.”Kornberg, 741 F.2d at 1335. Furthermore, the duty to provide adequate accommodations cannot be waived because “[a] sea carrier's ability to disclaim its responsibilities is not unlimited.” Id. The 11th Circuit has subsequently declined to extend Kornberg’s limitation of liability waivers outside of the context of common carriers, noting that, “[the vessels in Kornberg and in the other cases cited by plaintiff, however, were common carriers—e.g., ferries, ocean liners, or cruise ships.” Shultz v. Florida Keys Dive Ctr., Inc., 224 F.3d 1269, 1273 (11th Cir. 2000) (holding that scuba diving company’s common carrier liability release was valid because the company was not a common carrier since its business was scuba diving, not general transportation).

It is unknown to the author whether the attorneys in Terry alleged that Carnival breached the duty to provide adequate accommodations. However, the court ultimately found Carnival liable and awarded Plaintiffs $118,500 in total damages. You can read more about the verdict in the Daily Business Review’s article.

Admiralty and maritime law is filled with nuances which require specialized knowledge. If you have been injured on a cruise ship and seek compensation from the cruise line, you need a knowledgeable and competent attorney to guide you and fight for you. Call Michael C. Black, P.A. to retain a team of Miami cruise ship injury attorneys with over 50 shared years of experience in admiralty and maritime claims.

Call our phone at (305) 964-8792 to get started with a free case evaluation!